Russell Meade, 39, grows 680 acres of corn, hay and soybeans with his wife, parents and brother in Tiffin, Iowa. His Meade Family Farms Inc. also runs a 70-head cow-calf and feedlot. Meade studied accounting in college and went on to become a CPA. He joined the family farm in 1995.
How did you get into soybean farming?
I worked on the family farm as far back as I can remember. Growing up, we had a playroom in the office attached to our sow farrowing house, and we played in there while Mom and Dad worked with the sows and pigs. I officially started farming with them 14 years ago, when I purchased 80 acres to add to our operation.
After getting out of hogs in the mid 90's, we started a corn/soybean rotation. When we had hogs we needed all the corn we could grow for feed, so we usually had less than 40 acres of soybeans on some creek bottom ground. My early memories of soybeans involved the whole family going out to a 35-acre soybean field to pull volunteer corn and weeds by hand. When you’re an eight-year old, the rows seem very long!
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
We started no-tilling all of our rolling ground about a decade and a half ago. That was a huge change. We went from three passes of tillage to none, and from seeding with a bean drill to a 15-inch row planter. Another significant change has been switching from conventional hybrid seeds to round up ready seed. Now we are able to use fewer chemicals with better results.
How will soybean farming evolve in the next five years?
The trend is toward growing soybeans with specific traits – such as low linolenic soybeans (that are trans fat free) or high oil content soybeans – and farmers and agribusiness are therefore adapting to pricing and segregation of multiple trait commodities. We are looking at the potential benefits from growing trait specific soybeans but still are cautious regarding profit potential. Thus far, we have grown some high oil corn with neutral to profitable results.
What is your greatest challenge as a soybean farmer?
Trying to keep profits from soybeans equal to corn production is a huge challenge. We like the 50/50 corn-soybean rotation both for the benefits of the land and our own time/labor supply. We have had better yield increases in corn versus soybeans over the last ten years due mainly to seed genetics. Pests are an additional challenge. Managing soybean pests such as aphids, beetles and nematodes have increased costs, and not effectively managing those pests can have a significant impact on yields. So we continue to look for new traits, seed treatments and planting dates to get the most from our soybean acres.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
My seed dealer and grain merchandiser let me know what retailers are looking for. I am also a member of my state soybean association, and I know that continued funding for research and promotion of soy products will benefit farmers if we can raise soybeans with added value. When premiums for trait specific varieties match with reliable yield results, we will likely look at raising those specific traits.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Conservation has always been important. When I was younger, around the age of 13 or 14, I used to hate doing tillage around water ways. I wanted to just go across the field without having to worry about raising the disc at the right time to keep the shape of the waterway. Now I really understand the value of those waterways after seeing benefits first hand as we did last year, when our area had excessive rain and flooding. We currently use waterways, buffer strips and no-till in our operation.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We currently do not sell any soybean products locally, though we have enjoyed roasting some soynuts for ourselves to try at home. We do sell a few fat calves locally as quarters or halves.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
I enjoy meeting and talking to consumers about farming. Most people have a very positive image of farmers. People are interested in the farm lifestyle, the equipment we use and the decisions made on the farm. A few people I meet are concerned about biotechnology as well. I try to educate them about the benefits of biotechnology and alleviate some of the misconceptions people may have.
Most people do not realize how many products they eat or use that use part of the commodities that I produce. The bottom line is that most people believe American Agriculture is important – and they enjoy the fact that our food does not have to come from another country.